Recently, ESD spoke exclusively with Mr. Shaul Mazor, Vice President for Marketing and Business Development at Bird Aerosystems, which provides self-protection systems for civilian and military aircraft. Moreover, Bird Aerosystems countermeasures and sensors are integrated into Czech Army helicopters (noted in the photos below).
ESD: How do the Airborne Missile Protection System (AMPS) configurations differ from military and civilian airframes?
Mazor: AMPS developed by BIRD Aerosystems offers enhanced protection against Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS) missile threats for a variety of aerial platforms. In general, Civil and Military airframes have a different set of operational requirements and different certification requirements, which determine whether a system can be used. For example, one of the most obvious requirements relates to the System False Alarm Rate (FAR). While false alarms are accepted in the military environment, in the civilian environment it is completely unaccepted as it may lead to shooting flares over urban populated areas, which is a major safety issue.
BIRD’s AMPS has solved this problem and has managed to completely eliminate the False Alarms of the system by using a unique sensor developed by BIRD, called MACS – Missile Approach Confirmation Sensor. By achieving an unprecedented value of practical zero FAR, MACS enables to comply with the EASA/FAA civil aviation regulations and to provide protection to civil and commercial aircraft against the threat of MANPADS.
ESD: How might these differ between rotor and fixed wing aircraft?
Mazor: The main difference is not in the system itself, but in the installation form: typically, on helicopters, the system will be installed on the aircraft itself, and on fixed-wing, you would try to address the installation using an all-in-one pod that should be as much as possible cost-effective in terms of weight, size, and drag – as it has a significant influence on the fuel consumption of the aircraft. As an answer to this need, BIRD Aerosystems developed a several AMPS pods called Aeroshield, which are tailored for different aircraft – from VIP mid-size aircraft to wide-body aircraft. The Aeroshield pod is designed as the lightest and smallest pod available today. It allows the integration of both the MACS and SPREOS sensors that provide protection while eliminating the False Alarms and enabling the aircraft to fly over urban environments.
ESD: What are the aircraft size restrictions – and why?
Mazor: The aircraft size typically implies on the maximum allowed size and weight of the Missile Protection System, so for smaller aircraft, only a lightweight system can be fitted on. BIRD’s AMPS system was designed to be versatile in the scheme of installation and is including a reduced number of LRU’s – resulting in a very lightweight and easy to install system, enabling all-around platform compatibility.
ESD: What are the most appropriate airframes for AMPS?
Mazor: The AMPS was designed to provide complete protection in a modular way that can fit all types of aircraft, starting from very small helicopters such as the BK117 and EC-135 and going up to large jet aircraft such as B737, A320, and others.
ESD: Where is the AMPS deployed with various defence and policing customers?
Mazor: AMPS is fully operational on over 650 aircraft worldwide. Among our customers are the US Government, UN Air Operations, and NATO member countries such as the Czech Republic, which has installed the system on its Mi-17 helicopters and is currently upgrading its entire AMPS fleet.
ESD: How does the experience of defence and policing customers using AMPS compare and differ?
Mazor: The main difference is that defence customers usually tend to be early adaptors due to their large budget and advance operational requirements. Later on, these systems also permeate from the defence sector to other sectors such as police and border protection.
ESD: Does operating in different environmental climates mean there are specific ways the AMPS is installed, deployed or used?
Mazor: AMPS was designed to be operational across the world in diverse climate conditions starting from the high humidity jungles of Columbia, where we have the AMPS installed on UH-60 BLACK HAWK and HUEY helicopters, up to the high-altitude desert environment of Afghanistan. In all of these conditions, the system can detect MANPADS missiles upon its launch and provide enhanced protection for the aircraft and crew.
ESD: What is the next step for this technology?
Mazor: The next step will be providing a hard kill solution to compliment the flare / DIRCM soft kill solution that is currently available. The technology used by both the Self Protection Radar Electro-Optic System (SPREOS) and Missile Approach Confirmation Sensor (MACS) of eliminating the False Alarms and ensuring that only real missiles are reacted upon is the key building block that any hard kill system will require in the future. As such, it provides BIRD Aerosystems a unique position in approaching this development challenge.
ESD: How does MACS address and eliminate false alarms?
Mazor: MACS uniquely uses a Doppler radar, which confirms the incoming threat and enables optimal platform protection by flares. The Doppler radar quickly reacts to a pre-alarm initiated by the missile warning sensors, confirms the threat, and extract valuable real-time information such as its velocity and distance. This information is then used by the system to calculate the time-to-impact and accordingly initiate the most appropriate flare protection program against the threat. MACS is a unique patent developed by BIRD Aerosystems and is the only solution in the market today that offers such capabilities.
ESD: Where has it been used initiated in theatre?
Mazor: MACS has been sold to multiple customers and is used by high profile customers in challenging environments, including Somalia, Mali and others.
ESD: Why is the SPREOS DIRCM so very much sought after? How does it differ from other available counter-measure systems?
Mazor: The unique capability of BIRD’s SPREOS DIRCM to use radar technology to confirm the threat and precisely track it makes it a real game-changer in the DIRCM market. It opens a wide range of new operational capabilities that do not exist in any other DIRCM solution.
The SPREOS eliminates the False Alarms created by the optical sensors, hence ensuring that only real missiles will be acted upon. Additionally, the Doppler radar provides unique real-time information about the incoming threat such as velocity, range, and Radar Cross-Section (RCS). This information is used to initiate the most appropriate jamming technique against the missile while continuously tracking the missile to ensure the effectiveness of the jamming.
As the system offers a unique zero false alarm rate, it is able to alternatively combine protection by DIRCM and Flares that enable protection against the most advanced MANPAD threats while ensuring that only real threats are engaged by the system.
ESD: What are the most appropriate airframes for SPREOS? Where has it been used in theatre?
Mazor: SPREOS is the most compact and lightweight DIRCM in the market and can be installed on a wide range of platforms ranging from very small helicopters to large wide-body aircraft.
SPREOS unique capabilities have been chosen by several customers around the world to protect a wide range of aircraft, including rotary wing helicopters and fixed-wing wide-body aircraft.
ESD: Why is AeroShield the only pod solution that can carry flares?
Mazor: The AeroShield pod uniquely enables platform protection using both flares and DIRCM. By integrating flares alongside BIRD’s MACS or SPREOS confirmation sensors, which eliminate the false alarms, the AeroShield pod provides optimal platform protection against the most advanced threats.
ESD: How does AeroShield work?
Mazor: AeroShield is an all-in-one pod solution for the protection of narrow and wide-body aircraft. Integrating BIRD’s AMPS in a compact all-in-one pod, AeroShield ensures the highest aircraft survivability while reducing the aircraft signature and drag. The AeroShield POD is easily installed and can be simply transferred between different platforms.
ESD: How does the solution for civilian aircraft (logistic / passenger) differ from large military aircraft?
Mazor: The AeroShield pod was designed to be the lightest and smallest pod in the market, to enable it to protect a wide range of civil and military fixed-wing platforms and to ensure the protection of the crewing aircraft while flying over unstable areas. The fact that the AeroShield pod uses both flares and a DIRCM ensures a much higher protection level than any other podded solution in the world. BIRD’s AeroShield pod is certified by leading OEM manufactures and is currently delivered for Boeing 737, Airbus A320, Falcon 7X, and others.
ESD: Thank you for your time and insight.